A Channel rowing record – but we didn’t go to France!

I’ve wanted to take on the Channel record for decades, but only this summer have I had a boat that could do the job with my dream team of oarsmen. We’d watched the weather in the English Channel for a few days and decided to go for it. Nothing is ever certain in coastal rowing, but the conditions looked pretty good and it was a neep tide – a distinct advantage.

The fabulous Orio Speed Masters crew who conquered Loch Ness – with one crew change – were ready as planned on the shore at Dover to set a brand-new record for rowing the English Channel, but without ever reaching the French coast.  The headache is that the French authorities have banned rowing or paddling across the English Channel for the last 6 years.

They allow other craft, including sail boats, engine-powered craft and swimmers, but paddlers are banned by law. There has been a recent minor change to their rules, but it still means every boat that’s rowed or paddled must be towed when it’s in French waters and that invalidates any official Guinness Record attempt.

It’s ludicrous, especially when other sporting challenges can be completed shore to shore. Worse, if we ventured into their waters we’d immediately be stopped, taken under tow to a French port risk having our equipment confiscated and face a hefty fine.

But where there is a will, there is a way. So we spoke to the Guinness Records office and worked with them to find an alternative, equivalent, challenge course in the English Channel. The new course we came up with is almost exactly the same distance as the recognised Cross Channel distance from its traditional starting point off Shakespeare Beach near Dover to Sangatte in France.  


So, after getting the massive trainera boat into the water in the safety of Dover Harbour we rowed round to Shakespeare Beach and, with our support boat tailing us, set off in good weather towards the Channel North Cardinal Buoy, Colbart North. That would be our halfway point before turning to head back to the starting point. It is a distance of 22.6 statute miles.

When we finally crossed the line – after a tough return leg against winds and currents, we had clocked set the new target time for the course of 3hrs, 9mins and 2.5 seconds. Now, in agreement with Guinness Book of Records the Orio Speed Masters can claim a record – and an almost exact equivalent distance as rowing across the Channel.

I really hope others will take it on since we are not welcome in French waters. It’s certainly a very tough challenge. If anything, this is harder than a straight cross channel row because you are rowing over the same water in both directions.

It means any assistance you get from wind, tide or currents can be neutralised on your return leg. We’ve set a marker for others to try and beat now. Bring on the challengers and good luck to them.

More importantly, we have brought the tradition of challenge rowing back to the English Channel and it’s a great tradition we mustn’t lose. Thanks a million to Craig Brown for allowing us to use his photos. 

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